What’s Your Horse’s Laminitis Risk?

Some horses are more vulnerable to pasture-related laminitis than others, and the first step in preventing the devastating hoof condition is to determine whether yours is in the high-risk category. To help you, we?ve compiled a brief survey. The greater the number of ?yes? answers, the higher your horse’s risk of laminitis.

To learn more about laminitis and laminitis symptoms, download a FREE guide?Learn About Chronic Laminitis in Horses: The risk, prevention, symptoms and treatment of this hoof disease.

1. Has your horse had laminitis before?

This may be the single most reliable predictor of a horse’s risk, for three reasons:

  • The internal structures of a horse’s hoof after a bout of laminitis may be weakened and more vulnerable to the condition.
  • The horse may have another significant risk factor that hasn?t been identified.
  • Many cases of ?recurrent? laminitis are really a single case that was never completely resolved.

2. Does your horse come from a family prone to laminitis?

Laminitis occurs more frequently in some bloodlines. Some suspect the reason is a ?thrifty? gene or genes that enable horses to survive droughts but leave them at risk of metabolic chaos when nutrient-rich food is plentiful.

3. Does your horse’s diet include a high proportion of grain?

Diets high in grain are also high in the nonstructural carbohydrates (NSCs) that can trigger laminitis episodes. The safest diet for any horse?but especially for those at risk for laminitis?is based primarily on hay, with only as many concentrates as are needed to maintain weight.

4. Does your horse regularly graze on lush or improved pasture?

Lush, emerald green grass looks pretty but may be rich in a sugar called fructan that can trigger laminitis when ingested in high amounts. Your veterinarian and/or agriculture extension agent can help you develop a plan to create a safer pasture for horses.

5. Does your horse have Cushing?s disease?

Horses with equine Cushing?s disease, technically called pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (PPID), have increased levels of the hormone cortisol in their blood; this in turn leads to elevated levels of insulin, which can cause laminitis. Signs of PPID include a shaggy hair coat that doesn’t shed, increased thirst and loss of muscle mass. Your veterinarian can diagnose Cushing?s disease with a blood test and, if necessary, prescribe medications that will become a cornerstone of your prevention program.


Definition: extremely painful inflammation of the laminae, the soft tissues that connect the coffin bone to the interior of the hoof capsule. The rigidity of the hoof capsule allows little room for swelling, so blood flow is restricted, leading to tissue damage and more inflammation. In severe cases, the basement membrane that connects the laminae and the hoof capsule fails, allowing the coffin bone to be pulled downward. The result is the deformity called founder.

Causes: metabolic disturbances, such as from consuming excessive amounts of carbohydrates or sugars; mechanical stress or injury; systemic illness such as Potomac horse fever.

Signs: shifting weight from one forefoot to the other, ?sitting? back on the hindquarters to reduce weight on the forefeet, strong digital pulses, elevated respiratory rate, slight fever and generally uncomfortable look.

Treatment: Once signs of laminitis appear, damage to the hoof is already under way. Some research suggests that standing a horse in ice water when the first signs of laminitis appear may help reduce the severity of an episode. A variety of medications can help reduce pain and inflammation. Various trimming and shoeing strategies may be used to help support the hoof and limit or prevent rotation of the coffin bone.

Prognosis: Many horses can recover from a mild bout of laminitis, particularly if it did not progress to founder. When the coffin bone drops or rotates, however, recovery may be long and uncertain. Many horses are euthanatized because of the pain associated with laminitis.

From EQUUS magazine.